Snow in August | Aiguille du Midi, the Alps, France

mont_blanc_rangeGoing up to Aiguille du Midi was a both pretty intense and quite insane.

cable_carTogether with a hoard of probably around 60 other people, we packed ourselves into the cable car, the Téléphérique, which climbed the almost vertical ascent from Chamonix to the summit in about 20 minutes – this is pretty mind blowing, considering that the altitude gain it made in that time was over 2,800 meters (Chamonix is at 1,035 m and the peak of the summit is 3,842 m). In that time, as I tried not to think about the fact that we were suspended on a rope in mid-air, we basically went from a pretty lush mountain and green mountainscape, through bare and wind-swept slopes, then onto glaciers and finally to the level of the snowy peaks. It felt as though we were taking off in an airplane.

Once we reached the top, slightly weak in the knees, we stepped out of the cable car and onto the packed snow.snow

We went out to various terraces and viewing platforms and watches mountaineers come back from their expeditions and climb over the railings, while some of the tourists shivered in their sandals and I felt smug at having had the foresight to wear closed shoes and a few layers of clothes, despite the fact that it was August.

dizzyIt was cold, windy, almost blindingly bright, dizzying and a little hard to breathe.

stairsBut very much worth it to see Mont Blanc from close-up, at what seemed to be about eye-level (though technically it was another, almost 1,000 meters higher) – it felt somehow like cheating, like it shouldn’t be so easy to see it without having climbed it.

mont_blanc_heightIncidentally, the date we went up there was just a couple of days after the date of the first ascent of Mont Blanc, in 1786!



I – FINALLY (yaaaay!) – got to go back to New York and spend several days there this past June, after some significant pining, initially induced by ending up on a New York City street film set on the outskirts of Sofia, followed by photos of actual New York City grounds, sent in by my fortunate friends Silvia and Slavka, who went there in the past year and a general, pretty consistent desire to go there.

In the whirlwind of those precious and way too few and short days (and nights) I spent there, which were packed with running around, hanging out with friends and the festivities around one of the loveliest weddings I’ve ever been to (and the pleasure of seeing a very dear and old friend of mine tie the knot), I – not surprisingly – didn’t have time to go to any of the spots I had on my on-going “places to see and photograph next time I’m in New York” list – like this, this, this and this. So, these are four places that I unfortunately didn’t get to.

But fret not, as other cool grounds were stepped on (and skies were marveled at) and documented. I’m finally getting around to posting them and, as I do, you’ll find links to them below (because of my uptight tendencies, the posts will be dated to the actual time I was there and will therefore disappear in the archives).

In the meantime, here are just a few photos to tide you over.

I just realized that the photos – whether as words or images, are quite illustrative and descriptive of New York as a whole: electric, crossing all kinds of lines, profane, and dreamy. That, of course, is totally intentional, because I’m thoughtful like that. As is having a leaf in three out of the four pictures – just to nicely tie things together, you know.

Anyways, here are the other posts and photos from New York, as they are published, with the latest on top. Enjoy!

Canyon of Heroes

Subway map floating on a NYC sidewalk

Things were different back in 1626

Folly on Foley Square

What’s in a name

Two things on Tuesday | Montpellier, France

First: we’re not even all the way through July, I haven’t gone on summer holidays yet and there are already fallen autumn leaves on the ground. What’s up with that?

Second: I love this necklace for many reasons – it reminds me of the wonderful Christmas market in Toulouse where I bought it from, it’s made of two-sided, square pieces of encased Japanese fabric with patters and pictures, each of which is never repeated more than once, it makes a nice, light rattling sound when I move and it matches absolutely everything I own – including, as I surprisingly discovered after I took these photos today, my red shoes. [Can you tell I’ve been reading a lot of style/fashion blogs lately? It’s been way too hot to do anything more productive or thoughtful, so let’s just go ahead and blame this observation on them. Ok? Great!]

Year in Review: 2011 | Here, there, everywhere… and even from Mars

Before jumping into 2012 with both feet, I thought I’d do my annual Year in Review post. This time, thought, I am doing things a little differently and instead of making a list of all of my favorite posts, like I did last year, I have picked just one post from each month of 2011. Some of the posts I chose are more informative, while others are more fun to look at than to read (and vice versa), but I enjoyed browsing through all of them and hope you will like the trip down memory lane too. Good times!

In the spirit of reflection that unavoidably comes with a retrospective post like this, I have to admit that looking through my archives has made me realize the continuous fortune I’ve had in the past year of being surrounded, reunited, encountered with, hosted, welcomed and accompanied by wonderful, fun, lovely, inspiring and gracious people, some of whom are mentioned in the posts below. Without them none of my travels would not be what they are, if they were to be at all. So this review is also a big THANK YOU to all of them, for making 2011 a great year for me.

So, here goes. My highlights of 2011, month by month, were:

January 2011:

On the threshold, where nothing is permanent | Mahabalipuram and Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
My whole trip to India was nothing short of amazing for many reasons, one of which was that it coincided with the Pongal harvest festival, which meant there were beautiful, colorful hand-drawn decorations on the ground to be seen everywhere.

February 2011:

Blue Valentine | Kuwait

March 2011:

Oh so pedestrian | Sofia, Bulgaria
Not really much of a choice here, since I only posted once in March, but actually one of the texts that was the most fun to write this year.

April 2011:

Nobody puts Baby in a corner | Sofia, Bulgaria
A clear example of my belief that anything is worth writing (ok, blogging) about.

May 2011:

Eat Pray Love | Sofia, Bulgaria
Doing some of my favorite things with my favorite twins.

June 2011:

In the Palace | Balchik, Bulgaria
Not just because I was at the seaside, nor just because I was at a pretty fun and exciting film festival, but also because I was with one of my favorite friends at the most beautiful place on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast.

July 2011:

La belleza de las letr¡ah!s | Madrid, Spain
I have been pining to go back to Madrid and this year, ever since I saw the Letras neighbourhood, whose streets are beautifully engraved with literature several years ago. Cute guys lying down on the ground for my photo-taking pleasure were not part of the plan, but are always welcome.

August 2011:

Bits and pieces, in pairs | Barcelona, Spain
Probably the happiest, most carefree trip of the year. Luckily for me, though that was neither the first nor the last time I went to enchanting Barcelona and got to hang out with my friend Slavka.

September 2011:

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree | Moscow, Russia
I didn’t get to go to Moscow myself, but the photo comes from my beloved jet-setter dad, with a short text from me, whose writing led to the discovery of the idea of Kilometer Zero markings, which I had been unaware of until now, despite previous sightings.

October 2011:

Off-season girls | Bodrum, Turkey and elsewhere
My trip to Bodrum was a real joy, not just because of the treat of swimming in the Adriatic in the beginning of October, but mostly for the chance it gave me to meet and spend time with a group of wonderful, amazing and inspiring women, some of which contributed to this post, and all of whom left a lasting trace in my heart.

November 2011:

Finding my feet | Montpellier, France
A bit of a nostalgic post, but a real pleasure to write.

December 2011:

Martian, like the planet | Lake Salagou, Languedoc Roussillon, France
…and, as promised, finishing off the year with a post from another planet!

In between | Istanbul, Turkey

As September turned into October, in the span of 20 hours, I traveled from the East to the West and then back to the East: across seasons, months, continents and languages. Flew over Sofia twice. Passed through Istanbul once. Waited and exited. Waited and entered. And now I am here.

Bits and pieces, in pairs | Barcelona, Spain

My days in Barcelona, in the company of my lovely, fun, spirited, generous and all-around amazing friend Slavka (same one responsible for my visit to the city last spring) and another couple of glee-inducing and wonderful friends, passed as a whirlwind. Perhaps because of the manner in which the whole trip took place – fortuitously, with neither a set plan or agenda nor a precise ending point, every moment and every glimpse felt like an unexpected accident of grace.

I often gazed down and took pictures of different grounds, without thinking of a system in which to arrange or write about them. Now it turns out that they all, somehow, go in pairs – some are straight-forward couples, and other are twosomes of the odder kind, but twosome nevertheless.

So, in no particular order, they were:

Urban plagues

On Plaça de Catalunya, one of the city’s most touristy areas, where the pickpockets are as numerous as the pigeons and, in turn, the “rats with wings” are just as fearless as the pickpockets…

… or in Gracia, at the end of the one of the nights of the neighborhood week-long fiesta, when the trash-covered streets are the only reminder of the reckless abandon with which Barcelonites celebrate.

H2O and  H2eeeew

The water fountain in La Barceloneta, to rinse the sand from the nearby beach off one’s feet…

… and the stale, cigarette-butt-filled puddle – a testimony to the summer rain that fell the night before.

Keep walking

My interest in all things pedestrian has been well-document on this site (here specifically). I am always fascinated by how public space is shared, divided and claimed, especially though the delineation of ground surfaces and Barcelona was especially interesting in that respect. In an effort to reduce pedestrian-related incidents, which apparently constitute one third of all traffic accidents in the city, this long and detailed written warning calls for walkers’ attention at almost every crossing before they set foot on the road and exclaims that “We are all pedestrians!”

There are also enormous markings for the tramways, in case one failed to notice their tracks buried deep in the lush green grass:

Initialed, signed and stamped

Whether it was the enormous ‘E’ from the beginning my first name, inlaid into the sidewalk by La Barceloneta’s harbor…

… or the rain-water filled initials of my first and last names, seemingly hand-carved onto a sidewalk manhole cover.

Red circles and scarlet hearts

Throughout the center of the city, if you gaze down at all, you are bound to see red circles set into the pavement, which indicate the Route of Modernism – an itinerary through a total of 115 modernist works by Gaudí, Domènech i Montaner and Puig i Cadafalch – from palatial residences, impressive museum buildings, a hospital, school, music house and an entire park to more everyday buildings and city objects such as chemists’, shops, lampposts and benches (here is a full list of the works, marked on a map of Barcelona).

… while the stenciled, half-scratched red heart, which wasn’t part of any particular route but which I nevertheless took as a flirtatious wink at me by the city.

Botany lessons in passing

In addition to guiding people around its modernist landmarks, Barcelona seems intent on informing its residents and visitors of its rich plant life, with labels featuring not only the botanical binominal names of various tree species and their genus, but also their common names and places of origin and even a little stylized drawing of its leaves. In this case, what is commonly known in English as Southern Catalpa, Cigartree, or Indian Bean Tree, the Catalpa bignonioides from the Catapla genus is known in Spanish as arbol de las trompetas and originates from North America.

… or the Koelreuteria paniculata, which in English is known as the pride-of-India, China tree or varnish tree and in Catalan as sapindo de china and which comes from…. as you may have already guessed, China and Japan.

Speaking of trees…

I was startled to see so many fallen brown leaves on the ground in August, when it was still possible to more or less successfully banish thoughts of the impending autumn to the back of one’s mind and bask in the glory and carelessness of summer…

… though it must be said that the leaves looked especially beautiful on Gaudí’s ornate pavement tiles as a background.

Mirror images

in reverse

… and backward forward in Catalan, which itself seemed to me kind of like a language you’d get if you tried to read Spanish or French in a mirror, without knowing either of them particularly well.

All roads lead to… | Madrid, Spain

This is the figurative center of Spain – the precise point from which all of the country’s main roads radiate and are measured. Located in front of the former post office building at the Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, the design of the marking echoes the semi-circular shape of the square itself, which is meant to look like the rising sun, with the streets radiating from it as its rays. Historically, the square has been a place for madrileños to gather, meet, welcome in the New Year, protest and even carry out assassinations.

So, it is just as well that, to get onto the Kilometer Zero marking, I had to literally jump over some police barricades, which were set up in order to keep out the protesters camping out on the square amid the demonstrations taking place at the time.

There was a less permanent, and slightly more ambiguous, marking on the ground nearby:

Traveling without moving | Byala, Bulgaria

For all its lackluster, the otherwise uninspiring Black Sea resort town of Byala had a surprising variety of exciting grounds.

I couldn’t find out exactly what period the intricately arranged pavements in the town’s otherwise dismal center date from, though, judging from their quaintness, I would guess that they are from the socialist times.

Byala’s architecture is an unappealing mix of communist-era rest homes and community buildings, new marble hotels, uninspired (and often unfinished) private houses, shoddy shops and folky restaurants that border on tacky.

But at least the town seems pretty consistent with its pavements, including those that will be laid out in the future.

One of the place’s saving graces for me was, predictably, the sea (although a long hike up and down steep paths and roads under construction was required to get to and from it).

What also filled my five-day sojourn in Byala were the series of workshops, presentations and actions as part of a trans-border project on mobility and movement. It was run in part by uqbar, the same people who organized the Transient Spaces / Tourist Syndrome summer camp in Palanga, Lithuania, which I had the luck and pleasure to be a part of almost two years ago and which, in a way, provided the initial spark for the start of this blog.

But the most thrilling thing about being in Byala, by far, was the chance to see a few of the lovely people from Palanga again, meet several new exciting people and hang out with them (and infect them with the feet-photo obsession).

I’m still buzzing with excitement.